The legendary studios of WAPE on US Highway 17 south of Orange Park Florida. The pool and fountain were there for more than landscaping, it was the cooling mechanism from the home made transmitter. Photo courtesy of Charles McHan
Trade outs (bartering advertising for goods and/or services) were plentiful at the Kaplan’s stations. WAPE traded out a luxury apartment for me at Bay Meadows, a golf, condo and apartment complex south of Jacksonville. I had the use of a station vehicle, a beat-up van with the call letters on the side. I convinced GM, Joe McCluskey, to update the station's promotional vehicle. Stan didn’t care as long as it didn’t cost anything. Joe was a character and was the king of trade. Rumor has it, he traded out braces for his kids teeth. The dentist wanted a piano. Joe traded out the piano with a music store, gave it to the dentist in return for the braces. When I went to Charlotte to interview for the job, Jay Thomas picked me up in his company vehicle, a big four door Imperial. I was determined to have a cooler vehicle. Joe and his trade squad came through with a Jeep CJ Wrangler. They also traded a set of big tires, mag wheels, and a CB radio for the Jeep.
Jay came down for his first visit. Jay was an incredible on-air talent. As far as his national PD title, it gave him an excuse to come to Jacksonville. Just as I had in the past, I spoke with Burkhart each week about songs I was going to add to the playlist. Jay really didn’t care what I did as long as I kept Stan & Sis off his back. Jay would fly in, rent a car, check into the motel in Orange Park where WAPE had trade, and call me. Sometimes he’d wait a day to call me. He had quite a following when he was at WAPE and maintained a lot of "contacts" in Jacksonville. I’d go over to the motel and we’d sit out by the pool, drinking beer and soaking up sun. Occasionally, we’d discuss programming. We got along perfectly. The only time I heard from Jay was when one of the veteran jocks didn’t like something and called whining to Stan or Sis. They hollered at Jay and he’d call me and ask, "what the hell are you doing.?" The toughest thing Jay ever had to do was fire a guy. He hated it. Jay’s ambitions were to be an actor. When 99X offered him mornings, he jumped at the chance to go to New York. I’m sure they offered HIM more than $25,000.00 a year. I’ve seen him from time to time over the years and he hasn’t changed a bit. I love that guy (and he’s a great actor).
We handed out thousands of this rear window decal from Brunswick, Georgia to St. Augustine, Florida. Courtesy of Steve Farrington.
Domino and I revamped the oldies library and recorded the songs on carts. I ordered "speed up" cams for the turntables so the music really sounded "up". There has been considerable discussion as to whether I was the PD who returned the "Ape Call" to the air. I honestly don’t remember, but we used it nonetheless. I drew up format clocks, typed liner cards, recorded promos and called a jock meeting. I went over all the format changes and they just sat there and stared at me. There hadn’t been a lot of discipline under the former PD. The jocks had to be at the station an hour before their shift started for prep and to read the newspaper. They had to fill out prep sheets and turn them in after their shifts. They had to follow the GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS, rewritten for The Ape. I did the 10AM-2pm, so I had to set the example. While in Phoenix, I’d started using Dr John Winston as my air name. I had always hated using John Long, two one syllable names. Drew always told me either a jocks first name or last name should be two or more syllables. John F. Long, a builder in Phoenix, had billboards all over town. I didn’t want to be confused with him. I decided to change my name at the very last minute before my first shift on KRUX. At the time I smoked Winston cigarettes. I also admired (and still do) former WLS jock Fred Winston. I liked John Leaders’ idea of calling himself "doctor". John Lennon recorded some songs using the name "Dr Winston O’Boogie". Put it all together and I’m Dr John Winston! The WAPE jocks hated all the extra work required of them, however, as the days went by, some of them began to come around to my way of doing things. The morning guy didn’t and I told Stan and Sis he had to go. "Find someone to take his place and we’ll talk about it", they said.
Doug Tracht looked nothing like the way he sounded on the air. I met him at the motel in Orange Park. Stan and Jay were there, also. The deal to bring the Greaseman to WAPE was done. I knew of Grease form his days at WPOP in Hartford, then in Washington. His act was really different and the dilemma was how to (a) introduce him and (b) explain him. Grease would be a truck driver turned DJ. The CB craze in America was at it’s peak. "Convoy" by C.W. McCall was becoming a big hit. Grease would pull into the Big Ape parking lot in an 18 wheeler and "audition" for the morning show. First the current morning man had to be fired. It was a job no one wanted, but I think I wound up with. I told the guy we were making a change and that Stan and Sis had mandated it. Even so, he called them. I think Jay was "unavailable". I took over the morning show with Terrance McKeever doing news. Terry and I had a ball taking calls from listeners who wanted to audition for the job. Jay called in doing character voices auditioning for the shift. One character was a guy who cursed repeatedly. Larry Sprinkle (Jay’s Charlotte sidekick) called in and impersonated Stan Kaplan, only he was "Mr. Kapleberger", and there were numerous Jewish references. Miraculously, we got no heat from the Jewish community. After about two weeks, we finally did the "Greaseman" audition. It worked like a charm.*
The Greaseman Billboard, courtesy of George Francis (click to enlarge).
Paul Drew taught me the best way to keep the sales department from shoving promotions down my throat, was to beat them to the punch. Design promotions in which advertisers could be involved. To further promote the arrival of The Greaseman, I suggested we have our own "convoy". It had to have somewhere to end so I suggested a "CB Show". We rented the Jacksonville Civic Auditorium and any advertiser with auto or truck related products received a booth, if they bought a schedule on WAPE. The promotion concept wasn’t exactly a new idea, the Bridal Fair people had been doing it for a year or so. No matter, it sold out immediately. I contacted a trucking company and found a guy who was willing to use his truck as the lead vehicle. We actually sold the "kick off" to a truck stop just South of Jacksonville on I-95 (it’s still there). I called Dave Mac, MGM promotion man in Nashville, and asked him if C.W. McCall would make an appearance. He set it up. The last piece of the puzzle was the toll bridge over the St John’s River in downtown Jacksonville. The Civic Center was only a few blocks from an exit ramp. I arranged with the City to let our convoy roll through the gates without stopping. All WAPE had to do was pay the toll for each vehicle. I think McCluskey sold that as a sponsorship.
On convoy eve, one of the advertisers paid big bucks for the right to host a cocktail party for C. W. . The other sponsors were invited. C. W. understood perfectly what this was all about. He was an ad agency guy from Omaha. The song "Convoy" began as a jingle for a bread made by a baking company in the Midwest. The commercial actually got requests on the stations where the ad agency had placed schedules. The jingle was re-written into a song, C. W. recorded it and it became one of the top country singles of 1976. Country on the Big Ape? More about that later .On convoy day, the weather was miserable and rainy. No one had seen Grease before so they were looking for a big fat sloppy unshaven, beer swilling, redneck. Doug and a decoy (who looked like the slob I just described) climbed into the cab of the 18 wheeler with C.W. and headed up I-95 to the rally. Along the way C. W. and Grease chit chatted via CB radio with many of the convoy participants. The line of vehicles was over a mile long. Another jock, dressed in the Big Ape suit, waved everyone though the toll gate.
The BIG APE and me at the toll booth paying the toll for convoy participants. Grease and his stand in were in the Greyhound 18 wheeler in the background.
Most everyone in the convoy came into the auditorium and visited the sponsors booths. The sponsors were thrilled. Everyone was looking Grease. Doug circulated freely through the crowd because no one knew what he looked like.
The legendary Stan Kaplan, C.W. McCall and me at the "Breaker 6-9 CB Rally"
As time went on his anonymity became part of his mystique. Efforts were made to photograph him and once Grease and I made a TV reporter really angry; more on that later.
With The Greaseman in place, we had the foundation for an incredible spring book. WAPE had enjoyed on and off success. The country station did extremely well. My only competition was WIVY-FM. It’s ownership wasn’t very aggressive and couldn’t compete with the Kaplan's. Stan hated losing, therefore when it came right down to it, he’d do whatever it took. All I had to do to get some bucks out of Stan was to mention WIVY. Stan would walk into the station unannounced, go into the control room, go on the air, and start giving away $100.00 bills. Stan was a showman. Sis Kaplan, on the other hand was a little more reserved. Stan was a hurricane; she was a gentle breeze, except when they disagreed. Their shouting matches in the lobbies of WAYS and WAPE were legendary. Sis was an astute business woman and wasn’t the least bit shy about reminding Stan that she was co-owner. They were difficult to work with at times, but looking back, it was a lot of fun and they were great to me.
From the day I walked into WAPE, I knew there was an undercurrent of trouble. An employee had reported the station to the FCC for double-billing, the practice of over charging a client for advertising so the client could recoup 100% of their expenditure when they filed for co-op advertising dollars from a manufacturer. The employee had gone back to the station at night and made copies of program logs, affidavits, copy, and billing. Stan and Sis and their Washington attorneys were fighting it. They had a gal going back over every log, piece of copy, anything related to advertising, trying to dispute the charge. They finally found out she was the one who had reported them. WAPE was a soap opera. Inter-staff affairs were going on all the time. If one lover got in trouble, the other would make life hell for everyone else. There were a lot of groupies. I often returned to the studios late at night to find girls stashed in the restrooms or under the console. Not everyone on the staff smoked marijuana, but those who did got a shock when I laid down the law. I could hardly condemn them. However, the practice of toking up in the building during air shifts was over. It happened mostly at night and on weekends. The studios, on Highway 17 South of Orange Park, sat near the edge of the St John’s River. The land under the tower was marshy. The ground system (copper underground antenna radials) were underwater most of the year. Combined with the water-cooled supercharged transmitter (built originally from surplus Navy equipment) made the APE signal stronger than most AMs. There was a catwalk over the marsh from the rear of the transmitter room out to the base of the tower. The engineers used it to go out and take base current readings and do maintenance on the tower. The jocks used it to "burn a fat one". At least they were outside.
A couple of nights in a row I heard the jock play "Color My World" by Chicago at roughly the same time, certainly in the same hour. The song could not have come up in natural rotation in the same hour on successive nights. I checked the prep sheets and that wasn’t the song scheduled or filled in by the jock. I went to the station the next night about the time the jock usually played it. The song was about ten minutes long. It was possible the guy was in the restroom. I pulled into the parking lot with the Jeeps light’s off. I waited, and sure enough I heard the first few notes of "Color My World". I eased up to the front door. The jock wasn’t in the control room. I peeped out the bathroom room window and there he was standing on the catwalk having a "j".
I went back to the control room and on the way noticed the back door propped open with a broom. I had locked the front door; the Jeep was parked in the shadows. I eased the broom out of the door jam and held the idiot bar down easing the door shut. The jock finished his smoke and headed back in. I can only imagine his panic when he found the door closed. He was faced with more than one problem. He had to jump off the catwalk and run around the building in the dark. Snakes were regularly found all around the building. Additionally, ‘Color My World" was almost played out and he’d left his keys in the control room. He had started walking toward Orange Park, the nearest phone, when I caught him. I was so tickled, I couldn’t fuss at him.
A friend of Domino’s came to Jacksonville. The girl was 19 and as hippie as Domino. I got involved with her and she got me interested in Willie Nelson. Everyone thought I was nuts when I added "Blue Eyes (crying in the rain)" by Nelson. I also was one of the first PD’s to add "Third Rate Romance" by The Amazing Rhythm Aces. I never considered myself the smartest guy in the world, but I could hear good music. Disco was happening but country crossovers were also getting attention. Waylon and Willie released "Outlaws" and there were several cross-over hits on it. I believed that just because WAPE was a "Top 40" station, it didn't mean we couldn't play country hits, r&b hits, disco hits, and pop hits. If it was a hit and wasn’t radically different, play it. "I’ll Be Good To You" by the Brothers Johnson was heard on WAPE long before other Top 40’s played it. My all time favorite pick is "Moonlight Feels Right" by Starbuck. When I hear it now, I still get the same feeling I got the first time I heard it. It was a "top down, crusin‘ with your baby, gonna gets some lovin’ tonight" monster. My friend Mike Clark produced the record. My willingness to take chances on new music made me popular with the record companies. WAPE was breaking records.
I turned to one person when I wanted the truth about a record, Jimmy Davenport. Not only had we been friends for a long time, but I trusted him. He didn’t serve one master so he could afford to work the records in which he believed. He also knew the trust I and other PD's had in him could disappear quickly if he steered us wrong. That trust earned him early access to information from the stations with which he worked. He always gave the credit to the local guys for getting an early add. The local promotion guys had to deal with all of the PDs. Jimmy dealt with the ones he chose to work with. A local guy could get in a jam with a PD if he gave a competitor albums or a promotion. Jimmy could get things done because he didn’t care if the other guy got pissed. Jimmy aligned himself with the people he believed in. That alliance was difficult for some people to understand. There were always the rumors of payola. A PD friend of mine said, "If I had it all to do over again, I’d find all that damn money we were supposed to be getting. I’d be a rich man today ‘cause I would have demanded thousands!" The most Jimmy Davenport ever did for me was when I was out of work, the same that any friend would do for another. Buying future favors... I don’t think so. My ego demanded I win. Playing stiffs wouldn’t get it done. My relationship with Jimmy drew criticism, innuendo, and scrutiny. All anyone had to do was look. If they found something, then charge me; otherwise, mind your own business. Jimmy and the Atlanta gang came to Jacksonville often. We had some great times. Occasionally, a regional or national promotion man would come to Jacksonville. One guy gave me the first cocaine I ever saw. I thought it was a joint. When I opened the envelope, it scared me to death. I though just having it was going to make me a junkie. I flushed it down the toilet.
The afternoon guy left and I hired J. J. Jackson away from WQXI in Atlanta. We promoted his arrival by hiring a plane, flying him into a small local airport, and asking listeners to be there when he landed with signs welcoming him to Jacksonville and the Big Ape. A huge crowd showed up carrying signs; we gave a prize for the biggest one. J. J. kept the signs and told me later that he put them on the walls of his apartment. Stan was in town a few weeks after J. J. started and walked into the control room while he was on the air. "Give away $500 dollars" he instructed a dumbfounded J. J.. That was one of the beauties of Stan, he was a spontaneous and consummate showman. It's the sort of thing that would never happen in radio today. First of all, there are very few owner operators anymore. Second, there are no more Stan Kaplans in the business. J. J. didn't stay very long. Chelsea Records hired him to do promotion in Cleveland.
The Spring ‘76 book came out and WAPE had a 13 share. We had a party and a half. Gerry Petersen was at KCBQ and called to congratulate me. He asked me if I knew a good night jock. Domino had served me well and dreamed of moving up. Gerry hired him. Long John Silver, with Mercury, told me about a kid on WABB in Mobile, Dick Edwards. Dickie came to WAPE to do 10P-2AM, and was the logical choice to move into Domino’s slot. Domino had been my right-hand man. Dickie, now became invaluable to me. The staff was nearly all guys I’d hired by then. WAPE was a great sounding station thanks to all those guys. I just led the band.
Ironic that the 8/6/76 news of WAPE's ratings shared a paragraph with news about WHBQ's supposed success. The Memphis Arbitron Report was later recalled when fraudulent diaries were discovered. Little did I know I'd be right in the middle of that circus.
Courtesy of Radio & Records
Domino sent this to me when he got to San Diego
One of the most famous promotions we ever did was the Big Ape Skimpy Bikini Contest. It grew out of a need by the sales department for something to draw people to a local drive-in theatre. The crowds were unbelievable. The contestants stopped at nothing to win. It was already out of control when the owner of a drive-in in St Augustine booked the promotion. I was late and contestants information was taken by another staff member. The contest was wild with nearly every girl contestant (yes, we had a couple of guys but they were booed off the stage) stripped down to near nakedness. I had already decided to cut back on the contests when the St John’s County Sheriff’s Department paid McCluskey a visit. One of the contestants at the St Augustine contest was underage. The promotion was over. It reincarnated itself at a Jax beach night spot as the "Bare As You Dare" contest. The ages of contestants were carefully checked.
Me emceeing the infamous Big Ape Skimpy Bikini Contest
Wolfman was hosting a national TV show and they tied in with local Top 40 stations and a candy manufacturer for a national talent search. Stations would hold local "semi-finals" and the winner from each market was invited to Busch Gardens for the National finals. WAPE had been sponsoring a raft race each Summer on Doctor’s Lake in Orange Park. The business at the heart of the double billing problems had sponsored the raft race almost every year. The Race was cancelled the Summer of ‘76. Instead we sponsored "The Fun In The Sun Expo".
Me, running sound at the Fun In The Sun Expo
Businesses with ‘"summer" related products got free booth space when they made advertising commitments. The event was staged at the studios in a field adjacent to the building. There were thousands of people there. The Florida State Patrol had dozens of cars and officers on Highway 17 to direct traffic. WAPE’s band, The First National Rotagilla Band (rotagilla is alligator spelled backwards) won the right to go to Tampa for the nationals. Wolfman invited me to hang with him. The Rotagilla Band won the nationals and a guy from a station in Orlando accused me of rigging the contest. He was a jerk; I’m sure he’s still a jerk. He later went on to be part of one of many "Morning Zoo’s".
My daughter Meridith and me at the Fun In The Sun Expo
We were on a roll. We had two summer fun patrol vehicles and they were on the streets day and night. We gave away T-shirts by the thousands. One design raised a few eyebrows.
WAPE was a legend before I got there. With the help of Grease, Terry McKeever, Dickie-Do and others, it regained it’s dominance. In the Spring Arbitron, WAPE had a 13 share, 12 plus. Those numbers have never been duplicated. I want to point out that It was a team effort. I just happened to be lucky enough to have the coaching job. That included my being in the streets every day and night to the neglect of my family. I realize now it wasn’t worth it.
LISTEN TO THE GREASEMAN'S FIRST MORNING ON WAPE AT REELRADIO.COM. IT CAN BE FOUND IN THE JOHN LONG COLLECTION
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